The mill is the first to open in Hong Kong in more than half a century

The mill is the first to open in Hong Kong in more than half a century

Next month the first mill in more than half a century will open in Hong Kong to produce recycled yarn from post-consumer apparel.

Part of a project between the non-profit H&M Foundation and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), the mill offers a solution to one of the biggest challenges in closed loop recycling of post-consumer apparel: namely how to recycle textiles made from mixed or unknown fibres, or yarn that is soiled or damaged.

Located in a refurbished building on the Tai Po Industrial Estate in the New Territories, the first production line, with a daily capacity of about one ton of material, is currently being installed. The first test run is due in early August, with the second and third production lines following in September and October.

Incoming materials will be dry sterilised using ozone and ultraviolet (UV) radiation, cleaned, all buttons, zips and trims removed, and sorted robotically by colour. Once processed, the clothes will be cut and shredded and turned into a marled yarn that will be bundled into colour families before its content is analysed.

"Statistically, 50% of everything that comes in will be polyester, 30-40% cotton, and the rest wool," explains Edwin Keh, HKRITA CEO.

The recycled yarns will be blended with virgin material to meet customers' chief content and colour requirements – but because it is just fibre-to-fibre recycling, output will have to be exported to China for manufacturing into garments.

The facility will eventually produce around 3 tons of recycled yarn a day from post-consumer apparel. This will be blended with 20-40% virgin material to give a daily output of up to 4-5 tons of yarn that "will perform as good as virgin and cost less than virgin."

"We want to address the worst and most challenging end of recycling, and will process everything and make new yarns out of it," Keh adds.

The initiative also goes some small way to finding a solution to the over 200 tons of apparel waste produced in Hong Kong each day, which is either discarded in landfill, or downcycled into insulation, carpeting, and other low value applications.

"We want the mill to demonstrate industrial scale in action – and if we can create a factory in a crowded city like Hong Kong to locally solve our recycling problem then no municipality in the world will have an excuse not to do it."

Early signs suggest massive demand for the inventory. "Every brand is asking for some green solutions and some sustainable solutions – so the time is right. We are working with some manufacturers already, and they know they have customers for this stuff."

The mill will initially use traditional mechanical systems, but the facility will also provide a testing ground for new hydro-thermal and biological systems to separate and recycle blended fibres – another project being overseen by HKRITA that is being scaled up to an industrial level.

To read more about these projects, and a new space opening in Hong Kong that will demonstrate to consumers the entire garment to garment recycling loop, click on the following link: Hong Kong – the new hub for sustainable innovation.